The role of salt in baking.

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Q. I’m not a big fan of salt. Must I use it when I bake?

A. Salt not only sharpens and brightens the flavor in baked goods and helps prevent staleness — it’s also invaluable for gluten structure and even browning. But where it’s most important is its interaction with yeast. Salt helps slow the rise of yeasted baked goods, leading to an even, stable texture. Be careful not to add salt directly to yeast when you’re hydrating it — it’ll make for a less-risen bread.

Q. What are a poolish and sponge?

A. Both poolish and sponge are pre-fermentation methods. They start the leavening process earlier, ending up with a deeper, nuttier flavor and better, more even texture.

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They’re both blends of flour, water and yeast, set aside to ferment in advance — overnight for a poolish, a few hours for a sponge — then mixed in with the remaining ingredients and baked as usual. Use a poolish starter for multigrain bread because the extended fermentation helps break down the flours, making for a more tender loaf.

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